Emery Hoke coasted his pickup to an easy stop beside me. “When I saw you I knew exactly what you were doing,” he cheerfully asserted from the window, “I like to take pictures like that.“ Obviously, he knew the picture – a really cool weathered shed nestled against a November hillside. Puffy white clouds posing overhead. Regrettably, somebody recently stole Emery’s camera. So, I’m copying several photos from that morning to a disk which should appear in his stocking by Christmas.
Three hundred and fifty years ago French artist Claude Lorraine began to brush warmth and atmosphere into his many landscapes and became known a the Painter of Light. Artists before his time, and many since, considered the landscape to be merely a stage backdrop behind other dramatic activity. Never the raison d'être.
Did it ever occur to him, as he fulfilled his lucrative commissions, that a errant backroads photographer, three hundred and fifty years later, would believe for a fleeting instant that he was Claude’s second coming. The correct answer is, of course, no.
Many of his paintings made a permanent trip to the Hermitage courtesy of Catherine the Great . Check some here.
“Who’s your Daddy!”, they wise cracked sending derisive snickers rippling thru the soon-to-be pot roasts. Not once did they offer to step outside the frame and give me a clear shot of this five star predawn farmscape, with fence line framing and textured perspective sky. Nor did I ask. A massive alpha male stepped from behind the ladies in the front row and bellowed a thunderclap that shattered my breastbone and engulfed the camera and me in a boiling cloud of hot steam and road dust. Over my shoulder I heard my truck start and begin to ease down the road, gravels crackling softly. I chased after wondering if this qualifies as a lesson learned…
Once a year, sometimes twice, I return to John Furrow’s farm in Waiteville. Remembering we agreed, one past day, that I would return here for a spell to write my book. Photos. Impressions of rural backroads, steeped in sentiment, reveling in romanticism. Fantasies, you know, can be sustaining.
. A pox on big-shot TV ads. My name-brand cell phone whimpers "out of network" on the mountain backroads where I hang. Inconvenient? It severs my daily contact with the Housewatch Crew. Plan B then depends on battered and disrespected pay phones that still manage to survive here and there. They usually accept my phone card - and all's well for that day. Not this year, however. Each pay phone call now imposes a 95 minute surcharge punctuated by a huge flushing sound. From the start of this year's trip (unbeknownst to me) there were only three precious calls left on the card. I'm a worrier. Hearing on the first call that 95 minutes had vanished shocked my nervous system, tripped the 'Check Engine' light and registered on the local seismograph. Anxious preoccupation over losing contact with the Home Crew shut down my capacity to appreciate. Angst and tunnel vision began to consume the trip. On Day 8, with one call left, I stopped by the pay phone in Headwaters, Virginia. With cautious keystrokes I found a recorded menu that passed me to another menu, then to another with a teaser 'to buy more minutes, press seven'. Somehow, cards and codes succeeded bloating the deflated balance with enough minutes for "out of network" surcharges till closure. The Refresh Button had been pressed. The dark cloud lifted. There were no Housewatch messages that day; all's o.k. Floating away from Headwaters I turned north on Cowpasture Road and, two miles later, eased to the shoulder for this shot. The field note reads, "Hooo-aahh! How beautiful the countryside…."